On February 25th, 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its annual abortion surveillance report with their most recently compiled data and statistics --- in this case, from 2007 --- on abortion in the United States.

Since 1969, the CDC has reported annually on abortion-related data; typically this information is made public in November, usually during Thanksgiving week. As reported by Erick Erickson earlier this year, the CDC did not release this information as expected in November, 2010, and as late as January, 2011, there was even a rumor that the CDC would not be releasing this information at all.

However, that proved to be false as the report was eventually published on February 25, 2011. The CDC claimed that it was late because of data compilation problems.

So now that we have the report, what does it tell us about abortion and womens health?

To begin with, it is important to know what is absent from the report. Because state reporting of abortion is strictly voluntary, the CDC abortion surveillance report, while providing important numbers about abortion in the U.S., is not providing an accurate estimate of an overall picture of the US.

Up until 1998, every state annually reported abortion-related data. However, beginning in 1998, some combination of states refused to report abortion data each year. Included in the non-reporting states are California (1998-2007), New Hampshire (1998-2007), Oklahoma (1998-1999), Alaska (1998-2002), West Virginia (2003-2004), Louisiana (2005), and most recently, Maryland (2007). California has the highest number of abortions in the U.S., so in particular withholding their information from the total number bears great significance. Given that reporting abortion data ultimately serves to benefit womens health, I cant help but wonder why these states refuse to make this information public. In the report most recently released, California, New Hampshire and Maryland withheld their abortion data.

Because of incomplete data, groups studying trends and working on public policy related to abortion are forced to rely on the Guttmacher Institutes statistics. In the words of the CDC, CDC is unable to obtain the total number of abortions performed in the United States. During 1998--2007, the total annual number of abortions recorded by CDC was only 65%--69% of the number recorded by the Guttmacher Institute, which uses numerous active follow-up techniques to increase the completeness of the data obtained through its periodic national survey of abortion providers.

Another missing piece to the abortion surveillance report is the abortion fatality rate. Page 36 of the report indicates that from 1998-2007 the CDC did not calculate the fatality rate due to the fact that they did not have all of the states abortion data. Given that the majority of statistical conclusions included in the CDCs abortion surveillance reports since 1998 have in some capacity lacked U.S. data in its entirety, this claim does not seem to pass muster. It is sensible to believe that in the same way the abortion rate was computed with the information provided that the abortion fatality rate would be computed.

However, while missing important data, the report is extremely valuable and provides a great deal of important information. For example, the CDC indicates that in 2007, six women died in the US (in the reported states) as a result of complications related to abortion.

  • We also learn that approximately one-fifth of all children in the U.S. are aborted. Among the 45 reporting areas that provided data every year during 1998--2007, a total of 810,582 abortions (97.9% of the total) were reported for 2007; the abortion rate was 16.0 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15--44 years, and the abortion ratio was 231 abortions per 1,000 live births.
  • We know that most abortions were performed on women in their 20s. Women aged 20--29 years accounted for 56.9% of all abortions in 2007 and for the majority of abortions during the entire period of analysis (1998--2007). In 2007, women aged 20--29 years also had the highest abortion rates (29.4 abortions per 1,000 women aged 20--24 years and 21.4 abortions per 1,000 women aged 25--29 years).
  • The report states that the majority of abortions are performed early in pregnancy. In 2007, most (62.3%) abortions were performed at 8 weeks' gestation, and 91.5% were performed at 13 weeks' gestation. Few abortions (7.2%) were performed at 14--20 weeks' gestation, and 1.3% were performed at 21 weeks' gestation.
  • We also read that in 2007, approximately 20% of women used RU-486, the dangerous abortion drug, and that approximately 78% of abortions were surgical (curettage).

In the end, while not complete data, the annual CDC abortion surveillance reports are hugely significant and provide invaluable information to those of us who are daily engaged in the battle to fight for womens health both those women who are born, and those women (and men, too) who are unborn.